Edgar Allan Poe.

Works (Volume 7) online

. (page 8 of 18)
Online LibraryEdgar Allan PoeWorks (Volume 7) → online text (page 8 of 18)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


LXXII.

To see distinctly the machinery the wheels and
pinion of any work of Art is, unquestionably,



MARGINALIA 103

of itself, a pleasure, but one which we are able to
enjoy only just in proportion as we do not enjoy the
legitimate effect designed by the artist: and, in
fact, it too often happens that to reflect analytically
i-pon Art, is to reflect after the fashion of the mirrors
in the temple of Smyrna, which represent the
fairest images as deformed.

Lxxni.

With the aid of a lantern I have been looking
again at "Niagara and other Poems" (Lord only
knows if that be the true title) but "there s
nothing in it": at least nothing of Mr. Lord s own
nothing which is not stolen or, (more delicately,)
transfused transmitted. By the way, Newton says
a great deal about "fits of easy transmission and
reflection,"* and I have no doubt that " Niagara "
was put together in one of these identical fits.

LXXIV.

A remarkable work.f and one which I find much
difficulty in admitting to be the composition of a
woman. Not that many good and glorious things
have not been the composition of women but,
because, here, the severe precision of style, the
thoroughness, and the luminousness, are points
never observable, in even the most admirable of
their writings. Who is Lady Georgiana Fullerton?
Who is that Countess of Dacre, who edited "Ellen
Wareham," the most passionate of fictions ap
proached, only in some particulars of passion, by
this? The great defect of "Ellen Middleton," lies

* Of the solar rays in the "Optics."
f Ellen Middleton.



104 EDGAR ALLAN POE

in the disgusting sternness, captiousness, and bulled
headedness of her husband. We cannot sympathize
with her love for him. And the intense selfishness
of the rejected lover precludes that compassion
which is designed. Alice is a creation of true genius.
The imagination, throughout, is of a lofty order, and
the snatches of original verse would do honor to any
poet living. But the chief merit, after all, is that
of the style about which it is difficult to say too
much in the way of praise, although it has, now
and then, an odd Gallicism such as "she lost her
head," meaning she grew crazy. There is much,
in the whole manner of this book, which puts me
in mind of "Caleb Williams."

LXXV.

The God-abstractions of the modern polytheism
are nearly in as sad a state of perplexity and pro
miscuity as were the more substantial deities of the
Greeks. Not a quality named that does not impinge
upon some one other; and Porphyry admits that
Vesta, Rhea, Ceres, Themis, Proserpina, Bacchus,
Attis, Adonis, Silenus, Priapus, and the Satyrs,
were merely different terms for the same thing.
Even gender was never precisely settled. Servius
on Virgil mentions a Venus with a beard. In
Macrobius, too, Calvus talks of her as if she were a
man; while Valerius Soranus expressly calls Jupiter
"the Mother of the Gods."

LXXVI.

The next work of Carlyle will be entitled "Bow-
Wow," and the title-page will have a motto from
the opening chapter of the Koran: "There is no
error in this Book."



MARGINALIA 105

LXXVII.

Surely M cannot complain of the manner

in which his book has been received; for the public,
in regard to it, has given him just such an assurance
as Polyphemus pacified Ulysses with, while his
companions were being eaten up before his eyes.

"Your book, Mr. M >," says the public, "shall

be I pledge you my word the very last that I
devour."

LXXVIII.

The modern reformist Philosophy which annihi
lates the individual by way of aiding the mass; and
the late reformist Legislation, which prohibits
pleasure with the view of advancing happiness,
seem to be chips of that old block of a French
feudal law which, to prevent young partridges from
being disturbed, imposed penalties upon hoeing and
weeding.

LXXIX.

That Demosthenes "turned out very badly,"
appears, beyond dispute, from a passage in "Meker
de vet. et red. Pron. Ling. Grczcce" where we read
"Nee illi (Demosthenf) turpe videbatur, optimis
relictis magistris, ad canes se conferre, etc., etc."
that is to say, Demosthenes was not ashamed to
quit good society and "go to the dogs."

LXXX.

When and pavoneggiarsi about

the celebrated personages whom they have "seen"
in their travels, we shall not be far wrong in inferring
that these celebrated personages were seen *xs
as Pindar says he "saw" Archilochus, who died
ages before the former was born.



io6 EDGAR ALLAN POE

LXXXI.

I cannot help thinking that romance-writers,
in general, might, now and then, find their account
in taking a hint from the Chinese, who, in spite
of building their houses downwards, have still
sense enough to begin their books at the end.

LXXXII.

La Harpe (who was no critic) has, nevertheless,
done little more than strict justice to the fine taste
and precise finish of Racine, in all that regards the
minor morals of Literature. In these he as far
excels Pope, as Pope the veriest dolt in his own
"Dunciad."

LXXXIII.

I have sometimes amused myself by endeavoring
to fancy what would be the fate of an individual
gifted, or rather accursed, with an intellect very
far superior to that of his race. Of course, he
would be conscious of his superiority; nor could he
(if otherwise constituted as man is) help manifesting
his consciousness. Thus he would make himself
enemies at all points. And since his opinions and
speculations would widely differ from those of all
mankind that he would be considered a madman,
is evident. How horribly painful such a condition!
Hell could invent no greater torture than that of
being charged with abnormal weakness on account
of being abnormally strong.

In like manner, nothing can be clearer than that a
very generous spirit truly feeling what all merely
profess must inevitably find itself misconceived
in every direction its motives misinterpreted.
Just as extremeness of intelligence would be thought



MARGINALIA 107

fatuity, so excess of chivalry could not fail of being
(ooked upon as meanness in its last Degree : and
)>o on with other virtues. This subject is a painful
one indeed. That individuals have so soared above
the plane of their race, is scarcely to be questioned;
but, in looking back through history for traces of
their existence, we should pass over all biographies
of "the good and the great," while we search care
fully the slight records of wretches who died in
prison, in Bedlam, or upon the gallows.

LXXXIv r .

Samuel Butler, of Hudibrastic memory, must
have had a prophetic eye to the American Congress
when he defined a rabble as "A congregation or
assembly of the States-General every one being
of a several judgment concerning whatever busi
ness be under consideration." . . . "They meet
only to quarrel," he adds, "and then return home
full of satisfaction and narrative."

LXXXV.

I have now before me a book in which the most
noticeable thing is the pertinacity with which
"Monarch" and "King" are printed with a capital
M and a capital K. The author, it seems, has been
lately presented at Court. He will employ a small
g in future, I presume, whenever he is so unlucky
as to have to speak of his God.

LXXXVI.

Were I called on to define, very briefly, the term
"Art," I should call it "the reproduction of what
the Senses perceive in Nature through the veil of



io8 EDGAR ALLAN POE

the soul." The mere imitation, however accurate,
of what is in Nature, entitles no man to the sacred
name of "Artist." Denner was no artist. The
grapes of Zeuxis were ^artistic unless in a bird s-
eye view; and not even the curtain of Parrhasius
could conceal his deficiency in point of genius. I
have mentioned "the veil of the soul." Something
of the kind appears indispensable in Art. We can,
at any time, double the true beauty of an actual
landscape by half closing our eyes as we look at it.
The naked Senses sometimes see too little but
then always they see too much.

LXXXVIL

With how unaccountable an obstinacy even our
best writers persist in talking about "moral courage "
as if there could be any courage that was not
moral. The adjective is improperly applied to the
subject instead of the object. The energy which
overcomes fear whether fear of evil threatening
the person or threatening the impersonal circum
stances amid which we exist is, of course, simply
a mental energy is, of course, simply "moral."
But, in speaking of "moral courage" we imply the
existence of physical. Quite as reasonable an
expression would be that of "bodily thought," or
of "muscular imagination."

LXXXVIII.

I have great faith in fools: self-confidence my
friends will call it :

Si demain, oubliant d e"clore,

Le jour manquait, eh bien! demain

Quelque fou trouverait encore

Un flambeau pour le genre humain.



MARGINALIA 109

By the way, what with the new electric light and
other matters, De Branger s idea is not so very
extravagant.

LXXXIX.

"He that is born to be a man," says Wieland, in
his "Peregrinus Proteus," "neither should nor can
be anything nobler, greater, or better than a man."
The fact is, that in efforts to soar above our nature,
we invariably fall below it. Your reformist demi
gods are merely devils turned inside out.

XC.

The phrase of which our poets, and more especially
our orators, are so fond the phrase "music of the
spheres" has arisen simply from a misconception
of the Platonic word wwn which, with the
Athenians, included not merely the harmonies of
tune and time, but proportion generally. In recom
mending the study of "music" as "the best education
for the soul," Plato referred to the cultivation of the
Taste, in contradistinction from that of the Pure
Reason. By the "music of the spheres" is meant
the agreements the adaptations in a word, the
proportions developed in the astronomical laws.
He had no allusion to music in our understanding
of the term. The word "mosaic," which we derive
from povffiKr refers, in like manner, to the proportion,
or harmony of color, observed or which should be
observed in the department of Art so entitled.

XCI.

Not long ago, to call a man "a great wizard,"
was to invoke for him fire and fagot ; but now, when
we wish to run our protege for President, we just



EDGAR ALLAN POE

dub him "a little magician." The fact is, that, on
account of the curious modern bouleversetnent of old
opinion, one cannot be too cautious of the grounds
on which he lauds a friend or vituperates a foe.

XCII.

"Philosophy," says Hegel, "is utterly useless
and fruitless, and, for this very reason, is the sub-
limest of all pursuits, the most deserving attention,
and the most worthy of our zeal." This jargon was
suggested, no doubt, by Tertullian s "Mortuus est
Dei filius; credibile est quia ineptum et sepultus
resurrexit; cerium est quia impossibile."

XCIII.

A clever French writer of "Memoirs" is quite
right in saying that "if the Universities had been
willing to permit it, the disgusting old debauch^ of
Teos, with his eternal Batyllis, would long ago have
been buried in the darkness of oblivion."

XCIV.

It is by no means an irrational fancy that, in a
future existence, we shall look upon what we think
our present existence, as a dream.

XCV.

"The artist belongs to his work, not the work to the

artist. Novalis.*

In nine cases out of ten it is pure waste of time
to attempt extorting sense from a German apothegm ;
or, rather, any sense and every sense may be
extorted from all of them. If, in the sentence above

* The nom de plume of Von Hardenburgh.



MARGINALIA tit

quoted, the intention is to assert that the artist
is the slave of his theme, and must conform it to
his thoughts, I have no faith in the idea, which
appears to me that of an essentially prosaic intellect.
In the hands of the true artist the theme, or "work,"
is but a mass of clay, of which anything (within the
compass of the mass and quality of the clay) may
be fashioned at will, or according to the skill of the
workman. The clay is, in fact, the slave of the
artist. It belongs to him. His genius, to be sure,
is manifested, very distinctively, in the choice of the
clay. It should be neither fine nor coarse, abstractly
but just so fine or so coarse just so plastic or so
rigid as may best serve the purposes of the thing
to be wrought of the idea to be made out, or,
more exactly, of the impression to be conveyed.
There are artists, however, who fancy only the
finest material, and who, consequently, produce
only the finest ware. It is generally very trans
parent and excessively brittle.

XCVI.

Tell a scoundrel, three or four times a day, that
he is the pink of probity, and you make him at least
the perfection of "respectability" in good earnest.
On the other hand, accuse an honorable man, too
pertinaciously, of being a villain, and you fill him
with a perverse ambition to show you that you are
not altogether in the wrong.

XCVII.

The Romans worshipped their standards; and
the Roman standard happened to be an eagle. Our
standard is only one-tenth of an Eagle a Dollar
but we make all even by adoring it with tenfold
devotion.



H2 EDGAR ALLAN POE

XCVIII.

A pumpkin has more angles than C , and

is altogether a cleverer thing. He is remarkable
at one point only at that of being remarkable for
nothing.

XCIX.

That evil predominates over good, becomes evident,
when we consider that there can be found no aged person
who would be willing to relive the life he has already lived.
Volney.

The idea here, is not distinctly made out; for
unless through the context, we cannot be sure
whether the author means merely this: that every
aged person fancies he might, in a different course
of life, have been happier than in the one actually
lived, and, for this reason, would not be willing to
live his life over again, but some other life; or,
whether the sentiment intended is this: that if,
upon the grave s brink, the choice between the
expected death and the re-living the old life, were
offered any aged person, that person would prefer
to die. The first proposition is, perhaps, true;
but the last (which is the one designed) is not only
doubtful, in point of mere fact, but is of no effect,
even if granted to be true, in sustaining the original
proposition that evil predominates over good.
It is assumed that the aged person will not re-live
his life, because he knows that its evil predominated
over its good. The source of error lies in the word
"knows" in the assumption that we can ever be,
really, in possession of the whole knowledge to which
allusion is cloudily made. But there is a seeming
a fictitious knowledge; and this very seeming
knowledge it is, of what the life has been, which
incapacitates the aged person from deciding the



MARGINALIA 113

question on its merits. He blindly deduces a notion
of the happiness of the original real life a notion
of its preponderating evil or good from a con
sideration of the secondary or supposititious one.
In his estimate he merely strikes a balance between
events, and leaves quite out of the account that
elastic Hope which is the Eos of all. Man s real
life is happy, chiefly because he is ever expecting that
it soon will be so. In regarding the supposititious
life, however, we paint to ourselves chill certainties
for warm expectations, and grievances quadrupled in
being foreseen. But because we cannot avoid doing
this strain our imaginative faculties as we will
because it is so very difficult so nearly impossible
a task, to fancy the known unknown the dene
unaccomplished and because (through our inability
to fancy all this) we prefer death to a secondary life
does it, in any manner, follow that the evil of the
properly-considered real existence does predominate
over the good?

In order that a just estimate be made by Mr.
Volney s "aged person," and from this estimate
a judicious choice: in order, again, that from this
estimate and choice, we deduce any clear comparison
of good with evil in human existence, it will be
necessary that we obtain the opinion, or "choice,"
upon this point, from an aged person, who shall be
in condition to appreciate, with precision, the hopes
he is naturally led to leave out of question, but
which reason tells us he would as strongly experience
as ever, in the absolute re-living of the life. On the
other hand, too, he must be in condition to dismiss
from the estimate the fears which he actually feels,
and which show him bodily the ills that are to
happen, but which fears, again, reason assures us
he would not, in the absolute secondary life,

VOL. VII 8



ii 4 EDGAR ALLAN POE

encounter. Now what mortal was ever in condition
to make these allowances? to perform impossi
bilities in giving these considerations their due
weight? What mortal, then, was ever in condition
to make a well-grounded choice? How, from an
ill-grounded one, are we to make deductions which
shall guide us aright? How out of error shall we
fabricate truth?

C.

This reasoning is about as convincing as would
be that of a traveller who, going from Maryland to
New York without entering Pennsylvania, should
advance this feat as an argument against Leibnitz
Law of Continuity according to which nothing
passes from one state to another without passing
through all the intermediate states.

CI.

Macaulay, in his just admiration of Addison,
over-rates Tickell, and does not seem to be aware
how much the author of the "Elegy" is indebted
to French models. Boileau, especially, he robbed
without mercy, and without measure. A flagrant
example is here. Boileau has the lines:

En vain contre " Le Cid" un ministre se ligue;
Tout Paris pour Chimene a les yeux de Rodrigue.

Tickell thus appropriates them:

While the charm d reader with thy thought complies,
And views thy Rosamord with Henry s eyes.

CII.

Stolen, body and soul, (and spoilt in the stealing)
from a paper of the same title in the "European



MARGINALIA 115

Magazine" for December, 1817. Blunderingly done
throughout, and must have cost more trouble than
an original thing. This makes paragraph 33 of my
"Chapter on American Cribbage." The beauty of
these exposes must lie in the precision and unanswer-
ability with which they are given in day and date
in chapter and verse and, above all, in an
unveiling of the minute trickeries by which the
thieves hope to disguise their stolen wares. I
must soon a tale unfold, and an astonishing tale it

will be. The C bears away the bell. The

ladies, however, should positively not be guilty of
these tricks ; for one has never the heart to unmask
or deplume them. After all, there is this advantage
in purloining one s magazine papers: we ar never
forced to dispose of them under prime cost.

cm.

Aware et sapere vix Dto conceditur, as the acute Seneca well
observes.

However acute might be Seneca, still he was not
sufficiently acute to say this. The sentence is often
attributed to him, but is not to be found in his
works. "Semel insanavimus omnes," a phrase often
quoted, is invariably placed to the account of
Horace, and with equal error. It is from the "De
Honesto Amore" of the Italian Mantuanus, who has

Id commune malum; semel insanavimus omnes.

In the title, "De Honesto Amore" by the way,
Mantuanus misconceives the force of honestus
just as Dryden does in his translation of Virgil s

Et quocunque Dens circum caput egit honestum;

which he renders

On whate er side he turns his honest face.



n6 EDGAR ALLAN POE

CIV.

No; he fell by his own fame. Like Richmann,
he was blasted by the fires himself had sought, and
obtained, from the Heavens.

CV.

How overpowering a style is that of Curran! I
use "overpowering" in the sense of the English
exquisite. I can imagine nothing more distressing
than the extent of his eloquence.

CVI.

How radically has "Undine" been misunderstood!
Beneath its obvious meaning there runs an under
current, simple, quite intelligible, artistically man
aged, and richly philosophical.

From internal evidence afforded by the book
itself, I gather that the author suffered from the
ills of a mal-arranged marriage the bitter reflections
thus engendered, inducing the fable.

In the contrast between the artless, thoughtless,
and careless character of Undine before possessing
a soul, and her serious, enwrapt, and anxious yet
happy condition after possessing it, a condition
which, with all its multiform disquietudes, she
still feels to be preferable to her original state,
Fouque has beautifully painted the difference
between the heart unused to love, and the heart
which has received its inspiration.

The jealousies which follow the marriage, arising
from the conduct of Bertalda, are but the natural
troubles of love; but the persecutions of Kuhleborn
and the other water-spirits who take umbrage at
Huldbrand s treatment of his wife, are meant to
picture certain difficulties from the interference of



MARGINALIA 117

relations in conjugal matters difficulties which
the author has himself experienced. The warning
of Undine to Huldbrand "Reproach me not upon
the waters, or we part forever" is intended to
embody the truth that quarrels between man and
wife are seldom or never irremediable unless when
taking place in the presence of third parties. The
second wedding of the knight with his gradual
forgetf ilness of Undine, and Undine s intense grief
beneath she waters are dwelt upon so pathetically
so passionately that there can be no doubt of
the author s personal opinions on the subject of
second marriages no doubt of his deep personal
interest in the question. How thrillingly are these
few and simple words made to convey his belief
that the mere death of a beloved wife does not
imply a separation so final or so complete as to
justify an union with another!

The fisherman had loved Undine with exceeding tender
ness, and it was a doubtful conclusion to his mind that the
mere disappearance of his beloved child could be properly
viewed as her death.

This is where the old man is endeavoring to
dissuade the knight from wedding Bertalda.

I cannot say whether the novelty of the con
ception of "Undine," or the loftiness and purity
of its ideality, or the intensity of its pathos, or the
rigor of its simplicity, or the high artistical ability
with which all are combined into a well-kept, well-
motivirt whole of absolute unity of effect is the
particular chiefly to be admired.

How delicate and graceful are the transitions
from subject to subject! a point severely testing
the autorial power as, when, for the purposes of
story, it becomes necessary that the knight,



n8 EDGAR ALLAN POE

with Undine and Bertalda, shall proceed down
the Danube. An ordinary novelist would have here
tormented both himself and his readers, in his
search for a sufficient motive for the voyage. But,
in a fable such as "Undine," how all-sufficient
how well in keeping appears the simple motive
assigned !

In this grateful union of friendship and affection, winter
came and passed away; and spring, with its folia"-:: D tender
green, and its heaven of softest blue, succeeded co gladden
the hearts of the three inmates of the castle. What wonder,
then, that its storks and swallows inspired them also with a
disposition to travel?

CVII.

I have at length attained the last page, which
is a thing to thank God for; and all this may be
logic, but I am sure it is nothing more. Until I
get the means of refutation, however, I must be
content to say, with the Jesuits, Le Sueur and
Jacquier, that "I acknowledge myself obedient to
the decrees of the Pope against the motion of the
earth."

CVIII.

Not so: The first number of the "Gentleman s
Magazine" was published on the first of January,
1731; but long before this in 1681 there appeared
the "Monthly Recorder" with all the magazine
features. I have a number of the "London Maga
zine," dated 1760; commenced 1732, at least, but
I have reason to think much earlier.

CIX.

"Rhododaphne" (who wrote it?) is brim-full
of music: e. &.



MARGINALIA 119

By living streams, in sylvan shades,

Where wind and wave symphonious make

Rich melody, the youths and maids
No more with choral music wake
Lone Echo from her tangled brake.

ex.

I have just finished the "Mysteries of Paris"
a work of unquestionable power a museum of
novel and ingenious : ncident a paradox of childish
folly and consummate skill. It has this point in
common with all the "convulsive" fictions that
the incidents are consequential from the premises,
while the premises themselves are laughably in
credible. Admitting, for instance, the possibility
of such a man as Rodolphe, and of such a state


1 2 3 4 5 6 8 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18

Online LibraryEdgar Allan PoeWorks (Volume 7) → online text (page 8 of 18)